Better than: If not nature, Metamucil.
Likely the next fine and arty place to hang, the Shop is retooled
warehouse space wedged behind a stretch of brown metal fence along a
quiet residential street in West Oakland. Once down the block past the
craned necks of blinking passersby and inside the enclosure, we took
our place among the thirty-odd invitees squatting before the platform
stage. The star was chuffing cigarettes outside next to a giant iron
sculpture of a bull. The rest of the house ranged from the young
and wised-up to the elders of the punk rock tribe grown happy and cynical.
Billed as a living-room concert, this was more a loading-dock party of
kind the underground has been throwing since warehouse space became
irrelevant in our postreality economy.
David Thomas is revered in the underground as founder of Cleveland avant-garage incendiaries Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu. Rarely anybody's Little Miss Sunshine, he has long traded on an irascibility age has only massaged and given purpose. Squinting and growling about starting three minutes early, he clambered to the stage caressing an ancient accordion while Tin Huey's Ralph Carney sat in on clarinet. Right away, Thomas started abusing Carney, but the veteran sideman bore it puckishly enough, egging him on like jolly Mister Bones more than once.
"All you human beings look a lot alike to me!" Thomas chortled before squatting to yip and growl tales of distant woe
from a notebook open before him. His voice, a thing of open wonder
back in Pere Ubu's brief heyday, has mellowed into an astounding
instrument that wrings intense amounts of feeling with each long,
keening syllable. While singing, he moaned unceasingly of ghosts and
bitched between songs about the decline of his flesh, lashing out
variously at women, kids, Germans, and Japanese with all the confiding
creepy bigotry of the guy up the street with a collection of human
heads in his fridge. This cankered Burl Ives paused from his
Prufrockian reveries to light one ciggie after another and take the
occasional glug from a bottle of brandy.
At one point, he paused midrant to touchingly sing Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling In Love with You," predictably bitching himself out for improving upon the lyrics. He announced he'd come to the end of his contracted hour and asked Carney whether he thought we deserved an encore. He dismissed the vociferous plea on our own behalf -- "I spit on your enthusiasm! I've been trying to explain for decades now the audience is a total irrelevancy!" He seemed pleased enough when we reminded him otherwise.
Random notebook dump: "Fuck Coachella!"
Overheard: Thomas: "You'll see my genius after I'm dead!"